The phone buzzed for what felt like the hundredth time that night. Regina didn’t bother looking down at it, she already knew who it was. Instead, she set down her glass of cider and walked over to the window.
The snow was coming down harder now and the streets were deserted. Regina knew that come morning, after all the gifts were opened, the streets would be filled with children playing in the snow. For right now, though, the silence made her heart ache.
Silence was dangerous; it left her no choice but to listen to her own thoughts. A frightening prospect at the best of times, but on this particular Christmas Eve, it felt lonelier than ever before.
The phone buzzed again. She glanced down this time and saw the text from Emma.
If you change your mind, Regina, you know where we’ll be.
She did not trouble herself with responding or with reading the numerous other texts the Sherriff had been sending her all day. Instead, she simply turned the phone off.
Sighing, she finished off the glass of cider and reached for the book she has been reading. The words swam in her brain and she briefly wondered if perhaps she drank too much cider after all. Giving up on the book, she pulled on her coat and gloves and walked out the door.
The snow stuck to her hair as she walked aimlessly and before she knew it, she was at the town square. It looked different tonight. Most days, it was filled with people rushing towards their destination or children laughing as they wait for the school bus. Even at night, one could usually spot couples stealing kisses in the moonlight or someone returning from a long day at work.
Tonight, the square, like the streets, was deserted. The annual Storybrooke Christmas Eve party at Granny’s was underway, the tradition she started a few years before the curse broke. Most of their normal small-town traditions had disappeared when the curse was broken, but this one seemed to have staying power. Everyone in town was there.
Everyone except her.
She stood in front of the giant Christmas tree. It was the same one she found deep in the woods by the Toll Bridge the year after the curse broke and preserved with an enchantment that allowed it to stand as Storybrooke’s official Christmas tree year after year. Snow had lit it this year as she watched from her car parked a short distance away.
The sound of music and laughter distracted her, and she glanced over at Granny’s across the street. She could make out the silhouette of her son pretending to be an Elf as he handed out gifts to the younger children. Charming, unrecognizable as Santa, sat in a chair with infant Neal on his lap, while Mary Margaret proudly snapped pictures.
Shoving her hands into her pockets she walked further, leaving the town altogether until she reached the woods. She walked for what felt like hours until she found herself at the town line. She hadn’t been there since the day Robin crossed the line with his wife and son and she braced herself for the heartbreak once again as she thought about it.
It didn’t come.
She felt sad, certainly. But mostly she just felt regret at the time she wasted hurting over him as yet another monster threatened the town.
The one she created and built with magic from the ground up. Each detail lovingly crafted and carefully thought out. Every home and street put in place with a reason and a plan. A complete, functioning municipality born entirely in her own mind.
The curse had been cast in hatred, but it had been executed with a twisted type of love only an Evil Queen desperate for a fresh start could accomplish.
It was her town, but then the Snow Queen had moved in and attempted to use it for her own purposes. She had related, up to a point, to the Queen’s desperation for a family. But her empathy ended the night the Snow Queen had cast a spell that caused the citizens of her town to turn on one another and on her creation.
It was all over now. The Snow Queen was dead, having sacrificed her own life once she saw the light. The ice wall was down. Robin was gone. Snow was mayor of her town and while her skills at the job are suspect, Regina must admit that losing the town to her felt like fitting retribution.
Worst of all, her tenuous friendship with Emma was on the rocks again. Emma, who honestly believed Regina was angry that she saved Marian from being killed by the Evil Queen, instead of just being shell shocked and hurt as she watched her future crumble in front of her eyes. As though Regina were some sort of monster that would have denied one of her former victims the chance at escape. This judgement of her character, from Emma Swan of all people, hurt more than the rest of it.
They’ve reached some semblance of a truce, one that suited the town because they were on speaking terms again. But the easy trust, the laughter, the magic lessons were all gone, and Regina had no idea how to get them back. Emma, for all her promises not to stop trying until they were friends again, seemed perfectly content with the way things were, now that she knew Regina didn’t hate her.
She started to walk again, this time thinking of the past. The season did that to her sometimes, made her think of her childhood. There was no Christmas in the Enchanted Forest, but the Winter Solstice had brought celebration and gifts. Even growing up with Cora, Regina could still remember happy Winter Solstices as a child when her mother had looked the other way as her father spoiled her with presents. When she was 12 and her father had given her Rocinante as a gift for the Solstice, it was the happiest she could ever remember being.
She’s been thinking about the Enchanted Forest a lot lately and not for the first time she wondered what life had been like if she hadn’t cast the curse. Not for herself, she knew what her fate would have been. Banishment, probably execution at some point.
But for everyone else, it would have been wonderful. She remembered spying on Snow and Charming through her mirror the Solstice before she cast the curse. She had listened in as Charming had rubbed a pregnant Snow’s belly and they talked excitedly about all the presents they would get for their baby the next year. Knowing now that the baby was Emma, it filled her with a sick sense of guilt to know that Emma had never gotten to experience that.
To her surprise, she found herself at the Toll Bridge and she stopped walking at last. She was getting cold and she knew soon she would have to magic herself back to the mansion or risk frostbite. For now, though, she looked over the frozen creek.
She took a breath and allowed herself to speak the sentence that has been tickling at her thoughts for months.
“I wish I had never cast that curse.”
With a startled cry, she turned to see Tinkerbell beside her.
The fairy laughed at her expression. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Well, you made a wish,” she explained. “And I’m a fairy, so this is kind of my job.”
Regina scoffed, a short derisive sound from her throat. “You’re here to grant my wish?” The disbelief was evident in her voice.
“We’ll get to that. For now, let’s just talk. You look really sad.”
“I’m fine,” she said, but Tink shook her head.
“You’re not. I’m sorry things didn’t work out with Robin.” Regina rolled her eyes because of course Tink thought this was about Robin. She thought everything was about Robin.
She wondered how Tink would react if she knew what Regina knew now: that the pixie dust wasn’t showing them her soulmate, but simply the best option available to it at the time. She knew it was true because while she loved him and she missed him, it was not Robin that consumed her thoughts or has been showing up in her dreams.
And it was certainly not Robin that had her second guessing all her life’s choices tonight.
Tink saw the irritation in her eyes and decided to move things along. A melancholy Regina was difficult to watch. An angry Regina could be downright dangerous.
“Let’s talk about your wish.”
“What about it?” Regina hadn’t really been serious when she said it, or at least she doesn’t think she was at the time. But now that Tink is here, she wondered if this is her chance to really do this. To free everyone from her.
“Did you mean it?”
Her eyes flashed dangerously. “Why do you want to know, fairy?”
“You cost me my wings once, Regina. Do you remember that?”
Of course, she remembered. It’s not as though Tink would ever let her forget even if she wanted to. She nodded and turned her attention back to the frozen creek.
“What does that have to do with my wish?”
“I’m trying to earn them back now and ironically enough the only way I can do that is by righting the wrong from that night. I have to help you find your happy ending.”
“So, you are, what, exactly? My guardian angel?”
Tink’s laugh was melodic and sweet, ever true to her name.
“I’m no angel, Regina. Believe me.” Oh, she believed her. An arrow dipped in Dreamshade an inch from her jugular was more than enough evidence.
“I’m your fairy godmother. Or at least I will be once I get my wings back. Do you really believe your happy ending is in the Enchanted Forest?”
“Wait. You’re my fairy godmother?”
“Ironic, isn’t it? Now, answer the question.”
She didn’t really believe that she would be happy in the Enchanted Forest, but that wasn’t the point. “My happy ending is undoing all the damage I’ve done,” she explained. “Or at least that is as close to a happy ending as I am going to get.”
Tink nodded slowly. “Are you sure? You don’t really know what would have happened to everyone if they had stayed in the Enchanted Forest.”
“Do you?” she asked.
“No, Regina. I don’t. But I do know that the road not taken isn’t usually as wonderful as it appears.”
“Well, it’s the road that doesn’t involve cursing an entire population,” she pointed out and it is a logical point so Tink shrugged in response. “So, I think I will take my chances.”
The kindness in Tink’s eyes was overwhelming as it felt so undeserved. “Regina,” she said. “I’m willing to make a deal with you. I’ll take you back to the Enchanted Forest so you can see for yourself what life would have been like if you hadn’t cast the curse. Take that journey with me and if you still want your wish when it is done, I’ll grant it.”
Regina thought it over, but only for a moment. “Deal,” she said. She reached her hand out to shake, but instead Tink grabbed it and they were gone in a flash of green light.
It was colder in the Enchanted Forest than it was in Storybrooke. Regina frowned as she looked around her, the town unfamiliar in the snow.
“Where are we?”
“I’m not certain.”
They walked for a time, until something caught their attention. It was a mob surrounding the town gallows and for a cold moment, Regina wondered if she had stumbled onto her own execution.
She hadn’t. She did not recognize the hooded figure that was roughly pulled onto the platform, but it was far too tall to be her. She watched the proceedings with horrified fascination. Public hangings were common in the Enchanted Forest, but she had allowed herself to forget just how gruesome they could be.
Lost as she was in her thoughts; she almost missed it when Snow climbed the platform. She barely had time to wonder why the Queen was personally seeing to this execution when the hood was pulled roughly from the prisoner’s face.
Regina’s heart stopped for a moment when she recognized her.
“Red,” she whispered.
“Snow,” begged Red. “Please don’t do this. You know I’m not a monster! Please!”
Snow looked at her coldly. “You will refer to me as Your Majesty,” she said.
Red stopped speaking then, just looked down as the priest read her last rites and asked if she had any last words.
“I’m so sorry,” was all she said, before Snow gave the nod to the executioner and it was all over. Snow did not even shed a tear as she watched.
“What happened?” she asked Tink, horror making her voice shake slightly. She never cared very much for the girl, and perhaps it had been too many years since she had seen someone murdered in cold blood in front of her, but the sight was making her feel sick.
Tink shook her head. “She lost the ability to control her transformations after she killed her mother and lost her pack. She lost more of her humanity with every passing full moon.”
“What about her hood?”
“She destroyed it several years ago. She no longer wanted to be human. You see, being sent to Storybrooke kept her human during the worst time of her life.”
Regina nodded slowly. “So, when the curse broke,” she began.
“Her heart had had enough time to heal during those 28 years. She mourns her mother but did not give in to her animal instincts when she died.”
Regina grew quiet as they began to walk again, but after a little while she began to grow impatient.
“Where are we going next?” she asked.
“I’m not sure,” Tink admitted. “I’m not really driving this bus.”
“What happened to Snow?” Regina asked after a few minutes. “She looked like…”
“Yes. Like I did back then. What happened to her?”
“The same thing that happened to you,” Tink replied. “Pain. Loss.”
“I don’t understand,” Regina argued. “She had pain and loss before. I made sure of it. It never turned her into this.”
“Yes, it is an interesting phenomenon,” Tink agreed. “You gave her purpose. When she focused on running from you or defeating you, she was able to channel her pain. Once she defeated you, though, it was over.”
“But what happened to her?”
“I’ll show you,” Tink assured her. She took her hand and once again the green light washed over them. Regina waited for the fog to clear from her head before asking, “Where are we?”
Tink did not answer, just waited until Regina recognized her surroundings. Her eyes widened when she realized they were in the castle she had once lived in with the King. The air was somber, much like it had been in her own castle back when she had spent all her time plotting to destroy Snow.
“It’s so bleak,” she whispered unnecessarily.
“I always thought that once I was gone, Snow and Charming would fill this place with life and happiness. The thought used to make me sick, but this….”
This was so much worse and for the first time, Regina felt the cold tingle of fear enter her heart.
“Am I…am I responsible for what happened here?”
Before Tink could reply, a group of people rushed by. The fairy grabbed Regina by the hand and nodded in the direction they went. Though they knew no one could see or hear them, they followed a safe distance back in complete silence.
To Regina’s surprise, they arrived at what was clearly a nursery. “Is that Emma?” she whispered, but Tink shook her head.
“It is their second child. A boy named Leopold. We are now 13 years after you decided not to cast your curse. About 3 years before the execution we just watched.”
It was on the tip of Regina’s tongue to ask if this was baby Neal before she realized how ridiculous that was. Of course, there was no baby Neal here. There was no grown up Neal either. Which meant….
“Henry!” she hissed.
Tink shook her head in exasperation. “Emma is a teenager right now,” she reminded her. “And Baelfire has been gone from the Enchanted Forest for decades. “
The first tears of the night spilled. “Henry doesn’t exist,” she said, stunned. “How did I not think of that?”
Tink shrugged. “Good question,” was all she said. “Now watch.”
Snow was sobbing, completely ignoring Charming’s attempts to comfort her. The sight of her former nemesis in that state should have been satisfying, at least on some level, but it wasn’t. It was horrifying. She looked to Tink for an explanation.
“Leopold has pneumonia,” she said. “In Storybrooke, it would be easily cured with antibiotics, but here...” Her voice trailed off as Regina’s eyes widened in understanding. In the Enchanted Forest, pneumonia was known as the Lung Killer. The name said it all; it was an automatic death sentence.
“Snow and Charming sought out the best healers in the realm. Doctors, sorcerers, witches. It didn’t matter.”
“I can’t watch a baby die,” Regina insisted. “Please. Can we go?”
Tink nodded sympathetically and took Regina’s hand again.
“Wait!” Regina said. “I can’t see anymore. I want to go home.”
“I’m sorry Regina. I can’t do that. You need to have all the information before you make your decision.”
Regina closed her eyes. “Please. I don’t need any more information. I can’t do this anymore.”
Tinkerbell ignored her and squeezed her hand tighter. “We don’t have a choice,” she said gently, and with that the green light shone once more.
Their next destination was a complete mystery to Regina. She was certain she had never seen it before, but it still felt welcoming. They were directly behind a small cottage and as they approached it, Regina felt a sense of peace, as though she were coming home.
The door opened and a woman stepped outside. She sat on a porch swing, her back to them. As they watched, a blonde woman and a teenage girl came through the fence.
Regina gasped. “Is that Maleficent?” she asked.
Tink nodded. “It is.”
“She looks so happy,” Regina whispered. “Who is that with her?”
“That is her daughter. Raising her changed Maleficent, much like raising Henry changed you.”
“So, she is happy.”
“Yes, Regina. She is, and that it what I needed you to see. Some people were better off staying in the Enchanted Forest. You need to take that into account when you make your decision.”
“Is this her home?”
“No, she still lives in the Forbidden Fortress. This is the home of her best friend.”
Regina thought about that. She knew what that meant, but the idea was so far from what she was expecting. Still, she was not surprised when the woman on the porch turned just enough for them to see her face.
Tink did not reply, just watched Regina closely.
“It’s me,” Regina repeated. “I’m alive.”
“You are alive. You were banished from the castle and somehow you found the strength to build a new life for yourself.”
They watched as Enchanted Forest Regina greeted her guests with a hug. The three entered the home and through the window Tink and Regina saw them sit at the table, laughing and talking over tea.
“I look happy,” Regina whispered.
“You are happy, in this timeline. Now you know the truth. In a world where you did not cast your curse, your enemies are miserable, and you are happy. You won.”
“No,” Regina said. “That’s not winning.”
“Maybe not the way you envisioned it once,” Tink pointed out. “But the fact remains that it is now 13 years since your banishment, and you have made peace with your mistakes. You are beloved in this town, much as you are in Storybrooke. You have friends, a life, contentment.”
They watched for a while longer as Regina considered her situation. It was tempting. The woman she was looking at was clearly happy, in a way that she herself had never experienced. But knowing that the people she now considered friends were mired in the same kind of pain she was once was? It made the contentment Enchanted Forest Regina had seem cheap.
And there was also the question that she had been too scared to ask.
What about Emma?
She closed her eyes briefly, thinking of her.
‘They don’t know what it’s like to be rejected or misunderstood. Not the way I do not the way you do.’
Emma. The woman that had entered her life 3 years ago and changed everything. Challenged her when everyone else just fell in line. Saved her when everyone else wanted her dead. Put her hand on her shoulder and brought her magic back to life.
‘I’m not going to give up, Regina. Even if you still want to kill me.’
Regina knew she couldn’t give up either.
“What happened to Emma?” Her voice was barely a whisper and it made Tink look at her so sadly.
“Regina,” she said softly. “I can show you Emma. But once you see it, you will never be able to unsee it. Do you understand?”
Tink took her hand and Regina stood still as the green light overtook them once again.
Once it cleared, Regina looked around anxiously. They were at a wedding. Without question, Regina knew it was Emma’s.
Her heart flared for a moment. Had Emma found love? Was she one of the ones that was happy in the Enchanted Forest?
Tink grabbed her hand again and led her to the room where Emma was getting ready for her wedding. Snow was there, helping her put on her veil.
“I’m sorry, Emma.”
“I don’t want this life. I don’t want to marry the king.”
The words knocked Regina back as though they had reached out and slapped her across the face. She took in the fear, the hopelessness in Emma’s eyes.
“No,” she whispered in horror. “It’s happening again.”
“We don’t have a choice, Emma. This alliance is the only way to save our kingdom.”
“Please, Mother. Don’t make me marry the king.”
Regina did not even try to fight the tears. “This can’t be Emma’s fate. Please, Tink. Tell me it will end better for her.”
“I can’t do that Regina. I’m sorry.”
“Who is she marrying?” Regina asked.
“Oh, I can answer that, Dearie.”
Her heart stopped. “Rumple.”
“She’s marrying King George. The kingdom fell apart after the young Prince’s death and even Snow White and Prince Charming with their ‘Twue Wuv’ couldn’t save it.” He laughed, maniacally.
“But how is King George even still alive?”
“Simple, Dearie. He and I made a deal.”
This was impossible. Emma, being forced to marry a King 3 times her age, just to save her family. And how was Rumple able to see them, anyway?
Her question remained unanswered, because suddenly Rumple snapped. “It’s all your fault!” he screamed. “Bae is gone forever and it’s all your fault!”
She gasped as he reached out and squeezed her neck. “Look at what you’ve done, Your Majesty!” he shouted. “It’s all your fault! You didn’t cast the curse and now we are all trapped here!”
He let her go abruptly and without needing any explanation, she understood. Rumple had tried to cast the curse himself after her defeat and had failed. And that meant that Belle was gone and whatever was left of the man behind the beast was gone too. He would live forever now, terrorizing the Enchanted Forest for all eternity.
“Your fault! Your fault! Your fault!” His screams turned into a chant now, and he repeated it over and over, driving the words into Regina’s brain as she watched Emma walk down the aisle.
Without warning, her knees buckled, and she collapsed on the ground. “Please Tink! No more. Please take me home.” Her voice was quiet and broken by her tears, but Tink understood her. She took her hand and this time when the green lights faded, they were back on the Toll Bridge in Storybrooke.
“Well?” Tink asked.
Regina reached out and hugged her tightly. “Thank you, Tink,” was all she said. The fairy smiled at her and disappeared.
“Mom!” Henry’s face lit up when she entered the diner. All at once, the noise in the room quieted as she made her way inside. She grabbed her son in a hug.
“I’m so glad you exist!” she said nonsensically, and Henry laughed at her.
“Uh, ok. I’m glad you exist too, Mom.”
She took in the look of confused amusement on his face but was suddenly distracted again.
“Belle!” she said. Belle turned around with a smile.
“Merry Christmas, Reg-,” she began before being cut off by Regina’s hug. “Oh!” she exclaimed in surprise.
“I’m so sorry, Belle. For everything.”
Belle looked confused. “You’ve already apologized,” she pointed out, but Regina shook her head.
“Not properly,” she explained. “Please, I’ve wronged you in so many ways. Forgive me.”
“Ok,” Belle agreed, but her face registered the confusion they were all feeling at their former Mayor’s strange behavior. “I forgive you.”
Regina’s face lit up in a smile, before turning serious again. She made her way over to the Christmas tree.
They looked at her.
“The two of you have something so rare and precious. Promise me you’ll never give up on each other.”
“Promise me!” she insisted, and they nodded.
“We promise,” Snow assured her. “But Regina, I’ve been looking for you all day. I need to ask you something.”
“We put it to a vote at the last town meeting, Regina, and everyone agrees. You’re the Mayor of this town, not me. Will you take the job back?”
A half hysterical laugh broke from her before she sobered up at the sight of….
“Emma.” Her voice came out in a whisper.
“Merry Christmas, Madam Mayor. You been hitting that cider pretty hard?”
She reached out and grabbed Emma’s hand. “Can we talk?”
They walked outside, where the snow was falling faster than before. They watched in silence as it came down, unconsciously reaching for each other’s hands.
“Pretty, isn’t it?” Emma’s voice broke the spell and Regina glanced down, suddenly noticing their joined hands.
“Emma,” she began, but Emma reached her hand up.
“Me first,” she said. “I’ve been texting you all day.”
“I know, Emma. I’m sorry.”
“It’s ok, Regina. It’s better this way, in person.”
Emma reached into her pocket and pulled out a small box. “This,” she said.
Regina took the box and stared at for a moment.
“Open it,” Emma said.
Her breath caught when she saw the gift. “It’s the Wishing Star,” she said.
“Anna and Elsa gave it to me before they left. They said to give it to someone who needed a wish come true.”
“Emma, it will only work for someone with a pure heart. You know that.”
“Try it,” Emma said.
She closed her eyes and wished. The star glowed and she opened her eyes to see Emma smiling at her.
“What did you wish for?” she asked, but Regina did not answer her.
“I wished for this,” she finally admitted. “For this night. For this moment. For nothing to ever change on the path that led us here.”
Emma stared at her. “You’re a complicated woman, Regina Mills.”
“So I am,” she agreed.
“Regina,” she said, before shaking her head. “Never mind.”
Regina looked at her confused, but Emma just reached forward and touched her face. Then, she leaned in and placed a gentle kiss on Regina’s lips.
“Oh!” Regina said, startled, before melting at the feeling of Emma’s lips on her own. She eagerly returned the kiss. When it was over, she laughed softly.
“I kind of wished for that, too,” she confessed.
Emma reached for her hand and they stood in the snow for a moment longer. When a bell rang, startling them both for a moment, Regina put her hand on Emma’s face.
“Did you know,” she said. “That every time a bell rings, a fairy gets her wings?”
“I don’t think that’s how the saying goes,” Emma replied, chuckling.
“Yes, well, I’ve never really been one for tradition,” Regina shrugged. She looked up at the sky and she could swear that she saw Tinkerbell flying away.
‘Fly away, little moth,’ she thought, but her heart was filled with gratitude as she imagined her friend flying again after all these years.
“You want to go back inside?” Emma’s voice broke through her thoughts and they entered the diner hand in hand. Someone turned on Christmas music and they watched as their friends and family danced and laughed, enjoying themselves.
“Merry Christmas, Regina.”
“Merry Christmas, Emma,” she replied.
Her heart swelled with joy once more as she took it all in.
This perfect, wonderful, magical life.